Did you hear the one about last month’s ‘supermoon?’
Yeah, we know. The hype was actually for an event that was less than spectacular, as it revolved around the first New Moon of 2015 on January 20th. Said suspect Moon was touted as ‘super’ (we prefer the quixotic term proxigean) as it occurred 18 hours prior to perigee.
Not that the first lunar perigee of 2015 was an especially close one in time or space at 359,642 kilometres distant. Is every New and Full Moon now destined to become branded ‘super’ in the never ending SEO quest to get eyeballs on web pages?
But wait, there’s more. We’ve noticed as of late that another popular term is creeping into the popular astronomical vernacular: that of a ‘Black Moon’.
We’ve written lots about Moons both of the Black and Blue variety before. We’ll also let you in on a small secret: astronomers rarely sit around observatories discussing these Moons, be they Blue, Black or Super. At most, astronomers note the weeks surrounding New as the ‘Dark of the Moon,’ a prime time to go deep for faint objects while the light polluting Moon is safely out of the sky. And yes, terms such as ‘Super’ or ‘Black Moon’ have dubious roots in astrology, while the term Blue Moon comes down to us via a curious mix-up from Sky and Telescope and the Maine Farmer’s Almanac.
Simply put, a Black Moon is the New Moon version of a Blue Moon, and is either:
A month missing a Full or New Moon… this can only occur in February, as the lunar synodic period from like phase to phase is 29.5 days long. This last occurred in 2014 and will next occur in 2018.
The second New Moon in a month with two. This can happen in any calendar month except February.
And now for the most convoluted definition: the third New Moon in an astronomical season with four.
We bring this up because the February 18th New Moon is ‘Black’ in the sense that it meets the requirements expressed in rule 3. The fourth New Moon of the season falls on March 20th, just 13 hours before the northward equinox on the same date.
Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we’re proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your fridge or observatory wall. Not only is this the yearly article that we jokingly refer to as the “blog post it takes us six months to write,” but we like to think of it as unique, a mix of the mandatory, the predictable and the bizarre. It’s not a 10 ten listicle, and not a full-fledged almanac, but something in between.
A rundown of astronomy for 2015: There’s lots of astronomical action to look forward to in the coming year. 2015 features the minimum number of eclipses that can occur, two lunars and two solars. The Moon also reaches its minimum standstill this coming year, as its orbit runs shallow relative to the celestial equator. The Moon will also occult all naked eye planets except Saturn in 2015, and will occult the bright star Aldebaran 13 times — once during every lunation in 2015. And speaking of Saturn, the rings of the distant planet are tilted an average of 24 degrees and opening to our line of sight in 2015 as they head towards their widest in 2018.
Finally, solar activity is trending downwards in 2015 after passing the sputtering 2014 maximum for solar cycle #24 as we now head towards a solar minimum around 2020.
Our best bets: Don’t miss these fine celestial spectacles coming to a sky near YOU next year:
– The two final total lunar eclipses in the ongoing tetrad, one on April 4th and September 28th.
– The only total solar eclipse of 2015 on March 20th, crossing the high Arctic.
– A fine dusk pairing of the bright planets Jupiter and Venus on July 1st.
– Possible wildcard outbursts from the Alpha Monocerotid and Taurid meteors, and a favorable New Moon near the peak of the August Perseids.
– Possible naked eye appearances by comet Q2 Lovejoy opening 2015 and comet US10 Catalina later in the year.
– The occultation of a naked eye star for Miami by an asteroid on September 3rd.
– A series of fine occultations by the Moon of bright star Aldebaran worldwide.
The rules: The comprehensive list that follows has been lovingly distilled down to the top 101 astronomical events for 2015 worldwide. Some, such as lunar eclipses, are visible to a wide swath of humanity, while others, such as many of the asteroid occultations or the sole total solar eclipse of 2015 happen over remote locales. We whittled the list down to a “Top 101” using the following criterion:
Meteor showers: Must have a predicted ZHR greater than 10.
Conjunctions: Must be closer than one degree.
Asteroid occultations: Must have a probability ranking better than 90 and occult a star brighter than magnitude +8.
Comets: Must reach a predicted brightness greater than magnitude +10. But remember: comets don’t always read prognostications such as this, and may over or under perform at whim… and the next big one could come by at any time!
Times quoted are geocentric unless otherwise noted, and are quoted in Universal Time in a 24- hour clock format.
These events are meant to merely whet the appetite. Expect ‘em to be expounded on fully by Universe Today as they approach. We linked to the events listed where possible, and provided a handy list of resources that we routinely consult at the end of the article.
Got it? Good… then without further fanfare, here’s the top 101 astronomical events for 2015 in chronological order:
13- “Shallow point” (also known as the minor lunar standstill) occurs over the next lunation, as the Moon’s orbit reaches a shallow minimum of 18.1 degrees inclination with respect to the celestial equator… the path of the Moon now begins to widen towards 2025.